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Xenogears 05: In Chains

Soulful BlankaLet us consider what it is to be imprisoned.

Just when he had gained some small measure of contentment as a soldier fighting for the freedom of a nation, Fei Fong Wong was captured by his enemies, and detained in Nortune D Block. D Block was a prison for people from all walks of life, whether they be enemy soldiers, malcontents that threatened the safety of others, or simply those unable to afford the conveniences of modern of society. But while this area seems to be open air and “free” for its downtrodden residents, Fei is outfitted with a bomb collar that will detonate and literally blow his head off if he contravenes the rules. The message is clear: obey or die.

And so Fei is forced, against his will, to do… exactly what he always does.

First, Ricardo “Rico” Banderas attempts to establish the proverbial pecking order by forcing Fei into something like a prison Fight Club. Fei’s indomitable will triumphs, and he trounces those that would battle a man who is barely even awake. This wicked “baptismal” is then followed almost immediately by a recruitment by Imperial Battling Committee Member Rue Cohen. Rue wanted Fei to forsake his fists and once again get in the robot Weltall to (eventually) defeat Rico in Gear combat. Fei was told he would earn his freedom through this act, and that appeared to be the only way Fei would escape his unjust incarceration. In order to have any chance at a life, Fei would have to fight yet again.

And (after an unfortunate bit of sabotage on the part of the champ) Fei fights and is undefeated in the arena. Fei is an excellent martial artist and Gear pilot, so of course he is practically invincible when battling the jalopies of the local residents. This gear is the god-slayer; what hope does W-Shaver have?

This is surprisingly funBut when pilots start going missing, Fei is suspected of being a murderer. Rico, believing Fei to be seeking revenge for any one of many reasons, joins Fei in trying to find “the real killer” either thanks to a feeling of duty or a general fear that Fei is going to murder him next. And how does Fei clear his name? Why, he fights every last mutant in the sewer. Sometimes twice! Eventually, Redrum is discovered and executed for the crime of being a freaky mutant sliming his way around the underground. Was Redrum really responsible for murder? Fei believed so, so Redrum was punched into the stratosphere.

So, complete with solving (“solving”) crimes and fighting in two loose fighting tournaments, was Fei’s life on the inside any different from his existence outside those bars? No. The prison that Fei had created for himself was so much stronger than any bomb collar ever could be. It was the trappings of his own life that kept Fei bound, and he would only find true freedom when the cycle of violence ended.

After he punched about a thousand more soldiers and mutants, of course…

Even Worse Streams presents Xenogears
Night 5

Original Stream Night: February 2, 2021
Night of Battle Arena Toshinden 3

Random Notes on the Stream:

  • Welcome back to the ‘gears. Rico is Soulful Blanka, the saddest of Blankas.
  • And this turns into a history of Blanka / Street Fighter racism.
  • Caliscrub shows up early… but still misses the Blanka fight.
  • BEAT does a Paradise Lost.
  • And now… BEAT found Donald Trump fanfic. We will not discuss such further.
  • Being on stream is “like being alone, but better.” This… might be an own.
  • Hammer has glasses… no one knows why. Why do we have glasses? Nobody knows, either, but at least we can note Hammer’s first appearance.
  • And then we remember all the cartoons we ever liked are a million years old. … Also, Fei had a bomb collar removed. Sorta.
  • Fei lives in a porn universe. Just with robots. There will be no further elaboration on this fact.
  • Dangerous MindsBEAT quotes Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That’s one of the good ones!
  • If anyone is counting how often we mention Hulk Hogan’s Pastamania, here’s another instance. Soon, we will fight in a fake fighting game.
  • Fei lost his fight due to Weltall exploding… so let’s talk about why the Ninja Turtles chose their weapons.
  • “They built a fighting game into Xenogears and nobody noticed.”
  • We insult Amazon while streaming on Twitch… this may end poorly.
  • “You wanna see something soul-rending?”
  • As we enter the sewers, we talk about the ugliest King of Fighters. I will continue to defend Max.
  • “Mychronics, what a country.”
  • No one knows the lyrics to Rico Suave. But we have to do something to stay sane in this sewer dungeon…
  • “Those are some gross dolphins, dude.”
  • Hey, this was the stream right before Boxboy + Boxgirl times.
  • This sewer is driving us apart as we argue over whether Gamecube games are any good. I am firmly pro-Double Dash.
  • We can at least agree Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time is terrible.
  • This dude is murder backwardsEveryone knows how long it took to get to Redrum. It was forever.
  • “Have you ever found Waldo? It’s a pain in the ass!” … Oh, look, we close as Elly gets her own “meanwhile”. Been a while since we saw her.

Next time on Xenogears: Fei gets early release for good explosions.

It has to be somewhere around here

Chrono Cross 09: Final Boss(es)

Big ol' tickChrono Cross was always a complicated, labyrinthian mess of a game. From the focused infiltration mission of Viper Manor to the redundant and roach-infested remix of the intrusion a few hours later, Chrono Cross never quite knows when to let sleeping dogs lie. There is a dungeon exploring a vision of the future, another dungeon exploring a different vision of the future, and then we cap things off with a dungeon that is a vision of the future and the past (and a dinosaur). And at least one of those future dungeons (it’s the last one) ends with an epic, dramatic boss battle against a morphing opponent that is clearly intended to be the final boss.

And once you beat it, then you get to fight another, more complicated final boss.

We have not come today to roast Chrono Cross’s significant pacing problems. A gigantic dungeon followed by an arduous boss fight (and six extra boss fights in between) should never be followed by talking to ghost children on a one-screen beach before fighting a threat to the universe than cannot even get enough out of its own way to pull off a unique super attack. “Lavos” reeks of a slapdash final addition to the game, and the presentation of everything surrounding it screams of a universe where a bonus finale tying to Chrono Trigger was foisted in at some producer’s behest. We already fought Lavos, guys! And the fight was a lot more interesting last time! There might have been an alien astronaut in there or something!

But, while the final opponent of Chrono Cross is incredibly lackluster, the method of defeating her is not. The Time Devourer may be conquered one of two ways: beat it senseless, or weaponize the harmony of the planet. If you choose to slice and dice what’s left of Lavos, you will see the “bad ending”, but an ending all the same. However, if you acknowledge this is a hostage situation, and the person you are trying to save is, ya know, worth saving, you will be generously rewarded with a Schala/Kid-focused ending that provides a touch more closure. And wasn’t that the whole point of the adventure? To save Schala? I mean, it kind of came out of left field, but it did all line up…. Kinda…

Look at it goLook, it would be easy to be mad at Chrono Cross for trying to have its cake and eat it too with its complicated “real” fight against a dinosaur computer and then a puzzle fight against the true big bad… but you know what? I can count on one hand the number of JRPGs that, up to this very day, end with a boss fight that requires anything but a high strength stat. Are there interesting, intricate final bosses out there? Of course, but so many still boil down to “hit it harder”. The Time Devourer is something different, and, like the rest of Chrono Cross, that is interesting all by itself.

Even if it did mean that nearly everyone else on the stream never bothered to beat Chrono Cross “the real way” before…

Even Worse Streams presents Chrono Cross
Night 9

Original Stream Night: June 14, 2022

Recruited this week:

  • Technically we recruited Poshul again during New Game+, I guess

Random Notes on the Stream

  • Welcome to the final dungeon! Let’s discuss other PS1 final dungeons… except they’re kind of samey.
  • Ample Vigour joins almost entirely through groaning.
  • Look at me!Hulk Hogan kept the Pastamania Regalia. You cannot convince me otherwise.
  • Consider “I love the idea of incel Dracula” and other Castlevania spinoff concepts.
  • The final fighting boss appears as we discuss the possibility of a very bouncy King of Fighters JRPG.
  • What is the true nature of Lavos? Is it an astronaut that looks like a heart?… Or… something?
  • The redesign of Schala for Chrono Cross is discussed… but we all agree it is terrible.
  • We beat the game! We are playing it again! BEAT is playing Smash Bros again! My Switch told me!
  • Let’s fight Lavos all over again! And discuss how Final Fantasy 6’s Cyan is catfishing a woman from a cave.
  • And that’s it for Chrono Cross…. Kinda!

Next time on Chrono Cross: Let’s take a look back at the roads not taken.

It's her
Maybe we could go to the beach sometime?

FGC #458 Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Spooky!My parents were good, decent people that tried their best to raise a superior Goggle Bob. In some cases, I can say they failed, as it is clear my unchecked narcissism will one day destroy the world. Because I’m perfect, I must blame my parents for that inevitability. However, in many cases, they were successful. For instance, my parents were deathly afraid of me watching any kind of super violent or super sexual material, so they steered me towards books. This meant that I was not allowed to watch the R-rated movie Stephen King’s Thinner, but I was allowed to read the source novel. This led to a lovely situation wherein, a few years later, I was a goddamned wizard at typing out vivid descriptions of oral sex, which was a boon when you’re a teenager in the early days of cybering. Unfortunately, this policy also had some drawbacks, as I was not allowed to see a number of potentially frightening movies from the time I was a young’un. As a result, I never saw Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and was forced to content myself with the NES adaption as a consolation prize.

And, in retrospect, Gremlins 2: The New Batch for the NES is clearly the most frightening form of Gremlins media, so go ahead and chalk up another loss for my parents. They tried.

Gremlins 2 starts pretty much like every other NES game. Gizmo is an adorable little fuzzball, and it’s his job to… walk around? The opening cinema reveals that Gizmo was released from a cage, and… I guess he’s just gotta walk over there or somethin’? Look, the first level is simply Gizmo tossing (genetically modified) tomatoes at rats and spiders in a Zelda-esque isometric perspective. Gizmo is pretty well equipped for this leg of the journey, and there isn’t even a boss to clear before moving on to level 2.

And that’s when things get weird…

Drip Drop

First of all, go ahead and try to explain what the hell is happening there to someone who has never seen Gremlins. Bonus points if you can somehow elucidate it all to a child that is a little more used to magic mushrooms and frowning robot masters and not a wee fluff ball painfully launching ping pong balls out of his back.

Secondly, this is when the titular gremlins show up. To be clear, they’re not simply going to appear in cutscenes from this point on, they’re also replacing the rats and spiders as the number one opponent in every level. And they come in different forms! There’s a jumping gremlin, a skateboarding gremlin, a flying gremlin, a bat gremlin, a filthy wizard gremlin, and even a smoking gremlin that effectively breathes fire. These “individual” gremlins appear in great numbers, and every level is overcrowded with the monsters.

SPOOKYAnd, on their own, these gremlins might not be scary. The graphics are particularly nice for a NES game, so the gremlins are rendered well… but still matching their generally goofy big screen versions. Aside from the big, bad, boss gremlins, the average gremlin looks like it would be right at home in the Mushroom Kingdom. And Gizmo earns progressively better weapons, so, while he doesn’t exactly have a spread beam in his inventory, he’s also not the least equipped hero on the NES (that would be a certain elf boy). All in all, these gremlins should just be another batch of NES mooks destined for destruction, and not something that should still haunt this dear author.

No, what’s scary about the gremlins is that they hate you.

It may be hard to remember now, but most NES monsters… didn’t care. The goomba, the most iconic creature in Mario’s bestiary and the creature most seen on the NES, arguably doesn’t even know Mario is there. Dude is just walking along, minding his own business, and maybe if some plumber decides to stomp him into oblivion, well, that’s on that mustache man’s conscience. Similarly, even big bads like Bowser or the Hammer Bros. will continue facing forward well after Mario runs right past them. So it’s pretty clear that they may be malevolent, but they’re not trying too hard. An overwhelming number of “enemies” on the NES react the same way. Mets just sit there and wait, zombies and bats move forward with all the menace of a caterpillar, and even the most deadly monsters in Battletoads just kind of saunter over to the titular toads. And the general format of that day mitigates any overt hostilities. Everything is trying to kill you in a shoot ‘em up like Gradius, but the tiny sprites and excess screen real estate gives the impression that you’ve got time to deal with these threats. Hot stuffAnd, speaking of which, those Big Cores are big threats, but their mammoth size makes then lumbering giants compared to your lithe Vic Viper. Everything is slow and nonthreatening on the NES, because almost all NES games put their focus on other areas. You can either have a gigantic, expressive mechanical dragon, or a teeny tiny dragon that takes forever to clear the screen. Neither is going to scare anyone.

Gremlins 2 does not have that issue. Gremlins 2 decided to fill up its screen with large, expressive sprites for heroes and villains, and that drastically cut down on the amount of space Gizmo has to maneuver. The programmers also decided that nearly every monster would home in on Gizmo, so fire-breathers blow flames straight into his path, and leaping gremlins inexorably vault onto our tiny hero. And combine this with an office building that apparently includes live wires, spike pits, and a surprising amount of lava, and you can only come to one conclusion: everything is trying to kill Gizmo! And Gizmo is adorable! How could we live in such a cruel world!?

And that’s why Gremlins 2: The New Batch scares me to this day. It’s not an exemplary or even particularly memorable NES title, it is simply a game that taught a Wee Goggle Bob that even if you’re cute, even if you’re tenacious, even if you’re the best little fuzzball in the world and decked out with the same weaponry as Rambo, you still live in an uncaring, unforgiving world that wants to tear you to shreds. The training wheels of the rats and spiders are going to be coming off quickly, and you’ll be facing electric monster ghosts for the rest of your short, brutish life.

And your parents are going to just let it happen.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

FGC #458 Gremlins 2: The New Batch

  • Sparky!System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There were also versions for Gameboy, DOS, Commodore 64, and some manner of Atari… but they’re not nearly as traumatic.
  • Number of players: Gizmo is alone in the world.
  • Further indignities: You start with zero lives. You have to purchase even a single 1-up if you want to continue past your initial three hearts. You will not survive.
  • Ahead of its time: I want to say this is the first game I ever played that contained bottomless pits, but simply dropped a little health before respawning the hero before an ill-fated jump. It took most franchises until the N64 to pick up on that QOL improvement.
  • Favorite Boss: The finale features the gigantic spider gremlin (Mohawk?). It is a terrible boss, as you can basically just stand there and shoot and eventually it will catch fire. But, on the other hand, it’s a giant spider monster, and that counts for something in my book.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes, though with liberal save states. I think I even made it to the end when I was a kid… though that may have been because Nintendo Power provided many a password. I definitely still have nightmares about the ending with all the Gremlins melting…
  • Did you know? Sadly, Hulk Hogan does not appear in this game.
  • Would I play again: I am terrified into not even bothering.

What’s next? Random ROB is taking the week off, because I just had an amazing dream. There were moblins! And chain chomps! And some manner of seagull girl? Whatever. I’m going to tell you all about it. Please look forward to it!

Stay cool, bro

FGC #011 Lucha Libre: Héroes del Ring

No damn ideaVideo Games owes Wrestling an apology.

If there is a form of entertainment that seems tailored to translate to video games, it’s modern day professional wrestling. Larger than life characters, endless rivalries, a different “favorite” for every fan? From Hulk Hogan to The Rock, there are just generations of wrestlers and wrestling plots to pull from for the ideal video game. Unfortunately, we’re more likely to see a video game based on Sonic the Hedgehog’s trigger happy doppelganger than a critically acclaimed wrestling game. What happened here?

Well, first of all, pretty much every wrestling game going back to the NES controls about as well as Andre the Giant’s ass. I often use Super Smash Bros. and its descendants as the standard for “competitive game with easy to learn controls”, and, if pressed, I would put nearly any wrestling game on the complete opposite side of the scale. The game that prompted this article, Lucha Libre Héroes del Ring, features fighters that have difficulty just running towards their opponents, coupled with a pathological fear of getting back in the ring. Can I get a gif of that nonsense?

What is even happening here?

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Keep in mind the opponent there is an AI, and it is having problems just keeping its avatar in the squared circle.

There’s two absolutely important things in any competitive video game: the ability to effectively and meaningfully control your team, and a clear, achievable victory condition. Most wrestling games completely fail in both objectives simultaneously, as I have yet to play a wrestling game where pinning your opponent (the most obvious, straight forward victory even your old granny understands) is anything but some weird combination of buttons, timing, and luck. Say what you will about button mashing and modern fighters, but you could win a game just by smushing the weakest attack button over and over, and, eventually, your opponent will succumb. In a wrestling game? Forget about it. You’ll spend half the match trying to properly identify the “hold” button, and failing to even realize you’ve found it because you did it too close to the turnbuckle and your athlete decided to climb the damn thing and stick his ear out for some reason. What does that even mean!?

Get it?  Nothing?  Alright.And, to be clear, I’m not saying that games with complicated controls are inherently bad, quite the contrary, I’m ramping up to praise the franchise that introduced “rotate the controller 720 degrees and then hit three buttons at once”, but there’s a difference between “easy to learn, difficult to master” and “I’d love to play this game with you, but please read this complete FAQ first otherwise you have no hope of winning.” It is almost understandable in a two player game, but when a game asks for four people to grab controllers, well, if one player has difficulty understanding the exact methods to perform simple moves, forget about it when your fourth player is Ted’s visiting friend from the country. Mario Kart is right there, and everybody understands karts, right?

But, yes, aside from impenetrable controls and victory conditions, why haven’t wrestling games dominated the landscape like Smash Bros, Madden, or other successful franchises? Pretty simple answer: fighting games have stolen everything popular about wrestling without involving any of that messy “wrestling”. First of all, and most obviously, you have a huge cast of colorful characters all wailing on each other because they believe violence is literally going to solve all their problems. Chun-Li is investigating her father’s murder through street fighting, you know, as you do. Second, you’ve got endless rivalries and team ups based on the most tenuous of reasons. Scorpion and Sub-Zero are bitter rivals, except now they’re sworn to protect each other, no, wait, rivals again, and now they’re both gonna be solo acts as Sub-Zero dons Shredder armor and Scorpion gets a part time job with the gods. And, third, the face-heel/heel-face turns are myriad. Litchi Faye Ling is formerly with a shadow organization, oh, turns out that organization is good, and Litchi has decided to join a golden faced puppet master with the bad guys… but wait! She’s only doing it all to save her ex-boyfriend who accidentally turned himself in a blob. What was that? Point is, she’s tag teaming with The Undertaker now, don’t really need to know more than that.

Throw all these story-telling elements into a blender, hit the “forever” button, and you’ve got the makings of the WWF (… not the World Wide Fund for Nature… unless you include Alex the Boxing Raptor), or whatever we’re calling Big Wrestling this week. In a way, the main reason capital W Wrestling can’t get a foothold in the gaming market is because each and every fighting game released since Street Fighter 2 has created its own league, with its own stars and stories, and the mundane, “human” world of real professional wrestling can just never compare to worlds where a chubby blonde with mutant hair can battle a robo feline with a penchant for punnery.

You tell 'em, Skeleman!And it stings most of all in a game like this. Lucha Libre Héroes del Ring is a wrestling game sponsored by a professional luchadore wrestling association straight out of Mexico. You could not get a more colorful collection of characters together in real life. The Ryu of this game is a fellow named Abismo Negro, who is a big dancing skeleton. Do you know how many games should feature dancing skeletons? The answer is: all of them. It is the entire reason Dry Bones was introduced to the Mario universe. And it gets even weirder from there: there is a character literally named Murder Clown. And he works with a guy named Zombie Clown! And Electroshock, which I’m sure conjures up images of a third rate Spider-Man villain, but, nope, he dresses like Inside-Out Boy for whatever inexplicable reason. There are pages of Wikipedia data on these guys, because, yeah, you need an explanation for why anyone would go by the alias of “Charly Manson”.

And the sad thing? No one gives a damn. It is… neat… to deal with a murder clown (sorry, should that be capitalized?), but Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe features a murder clown AND multiple guys who can shoot lasers from their eyes, sexy ninja assassins, and a former president in flying battle armor. Professional wrestling, no matter the country of origin, just can’t compete in the virtual world, where zombie clowns are usually the third enemy you blow to pieces before moving on to more interesting targets. It’s making the poor skeleman weep.

So Video Games stole everything that makes Professional Wrestling interesting, picked the bones clean, and left the corpse out in the rain to rot with its lame controls. Two generally violent mediums, and one destroys the other with nary a punch thrown. You don’t even have to wait to hear the three count.

FGC #11 Lucha Libre: Héroes del Ring

  • System: PS3 in this case, but Xbox 360 is still available… somewhere. I’m sure.
  • Number of Players: 4, and good luck getting three other people to play this game over anything else available.
  • Best Wrestler: Clearly Extreme Tiger, as he appears to be horrifying and pettable all at the same time.
  • Create-a-Character Any Good? It’s fairly limited, but you can also make an outrageous walking Christmas tree of a man to combat the likes of Super Fly, so it’s kind of a wash.
  • Did You Know? This game was also intended for Wii (okay, makes sense) DS and PSP (whoa, what?). Unfortunately, I think I accounted for about 33% of the sales for the PS3 version, so no one bothered with the ports.
  • Why did you buy this game, anyway? Dancing skeleton.
    Go Go Skeleman
  • Would I Play Again? The odds are really low. Maybe for a quick, “Hey guys, check out this nonsense.”

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Ha. If you can believe it, that stupid hunk of plastic chose Double Dragon again. I’m going to have to look at the odds of that actually happening… Second choice… Otomedius Excellent. Oh my, I suppose I have to admit I own this game…. Please look forward to it!